Tech Transformers

Ford boosts investment on semi-autonomous tech


Ford will triple its investment in semi-autonomous driving technology, chief executive Mark Fields announced on Monday, as carmakers race to get fully driverless vehicles on the road.

Fields did not put a dollar value on the investment as a proportion of the company's overall research and development spend, but said the money would go towards developing "driver assist technology".

The first of these is called "Traffic Jam Assist" which will help the driver with "steering, braking and acceleration in heavily congested traffic situations on motorways," according to Ford.

"Fully Active Park Assist" is the second feature which will help people park. Both will roll out over the next three years.

Bloomberg | Getty Images

The semi-autonomous controls lay the groundwork for Ford as it pursues fully self-driving cars in the wake of competition from technology companies such as Google. But Fields told an audience at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Monday that the company is staving off the threat from technology giants.

"At Ford we've decided to disrupt ourselves," Fields said.

"We've been focused on autonomous vehicles for more than a decade and this year we'll have the largest autonomous test fleet among all major automakers," he added later.

Ford is testing its driverless cars in Germany, California and Michigan in the U.S and some of its cars already have semi-autonomous features.

Ford as a mobile company

Google’s driverless car push gets a boost
Interior dash of a Ford Edge.
Toyota snubs Apple, Google with Ford tech tie-up

Fields used his keynote at Mobile World Congress to make a slew of other announcements around its software and services. Ford launched the new Kuga SUV vehicle at the event with some semi-autonomous technologies in it.

The carmaker also brought its SYNC 3 in-vehicle infotainment system to Europe, adding that it was compatible with Apple's in-car operating system CarPlay and Google's Android Auto. It can be updated over the air by WiFi, much like the software in Tesla cars.

Ford has been talking a lot recently about the future of the auto industry, particular on the software side of the business. The auto giant has opened its SYNC platform to developers in order to make more in-car apps available. SYNC is also installed in other car manufacturers' vehicles. By 2020, Fields said that SYNC will be in 43 million cars.

The move marks the carmakers bid to become a "mobility" company, opening up new revenue streams as more and more vehicles get connected features. Even if it's not selling a car, it can still make money from software in other car makers' models.